China calls for emergency talks amid Korea crisis

USS George Washington - 24 November 2010 The US is carrying out military exercises with the South

China has called for an emergency meeting of key nations amid tension in Korea over the North's deadly shelling of a Southern island.

It proposed that members of the six nations that have been taking part in talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament should meet in December.

The two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia are involved in the talks.

Correspondents say South Korea's response has been non-committal and that it will consult other countries.

Tension remains high on the peninsula, with the US and South Korea undertaking joint military exercises the North has denounced as a provocation.

Angry protests

The six-party North Korea talks have been stalled since April 2009, and South Korea and the US say they should not resume until the North has made a genuine offer on halting its nuclear programme.

Some analysts think North Korea is trying to raise tensions in order to strengthen its negotiating position and force a resumption of the talks.

Wu Dawei, China's representative to the talks, said on Sunday: "The Chinese side, after careful study, proposes to have emergency consultations among the heads of delegation to the six-party talks in early December in Beijing to exchange views on major issues of concern to the parties at present."

North Korea: Timeline 2010

26 March: South Korean warship, Cheonan, sinks, killing 46 sailors

20 May: Panel says a North Korean torpedo sank the ship; Pyongyang denies involvement

July-September: South Korea and US hold military exercises; US places more sanctions on Pyongyang

29 September: North holds rare party congress seen as part of father-to-son succession move

29 October: Troops from North and South Korea exchange fire across the land border

12 November: North Korea shows US scientist new - undeclared - uranium enrichment facility

23 November: North shells island of Yeonpyeong, killing at least four South Koreans

He said this was not a proposal to resume formally the six-nation negotiations.

Mr Wu said "complicated factors" had arisen on the peninsula, adding: "The international community, particularly the members of the six-party talks, is deeply concerned."

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Seoul says the response of South Korea and its allies to China's move has been less than enthusiastic.

A South Korean foreign ministry statement said the proposal would be "reviewed very carefully".

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said President Lee Myung-bak had told visiting senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Dai Bingguo that Seoul was not interested in the early resumption of the six-party nuclear talks themselves, as it was more urgent to deal with Pyongyang's belligerence.

Japan's Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said that Tokyo would "deal with the issue cautiously while cooperating with South Korea and the United States".

The Korea crisis began when the North launched a sudden barrage of shells at Yeonpyeong island, close to the maritime border between the two countries, on Tuesday.

Two South Korean civilians and two marines were killed, sparking the resignation of the South's defence minister and angry protests in the South.

Pyongyang insists it was provoked into the shelling by military exercises, which were being carried out by the South close to Yeonpyeong.

'Unpredictable'

The US and South Korea on Sunday began new, pre-arranged military exercises in the Yellow Sea, about 125km (77 miles) south of the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas.

The aircraft carrier the USS George Washington and four other US navy vessels are being joined by South Korean destroyers, patrol vessels, frigates, support ships and anti-submarine aircraft.

Shortly after the exercises began, North Korea again vowed to hit back if its waters were violated.

"We will deliver a brutal military blow on any provocation which violates our territorial waters," the North's state-controlled KCNA news agency said.

Yonhap reported that Pyongyang had placed surface-to-surface missiles on launch pads in the Yellow Sea and had also moved surface-to-air missiles to frontline areas, but the South's defence ministry could not confirm the deployment.

Map

Residents of Yeonpyeong were ordered to shelter in bunkers when artillery fire was heard on Sunday, but the order was lifted 40 minutes later. Only about 20 of the 1,700 residents remain on the island.

The South Korean defence ministry has also now instructed journalists to leave by the end of Sunday as it cannot guarantee their safety.

"At this stage, it is unpredictable what kind of a provocative action North Korea will take using the South Korean-US joint drills as a justification," the ministry said.

Yonhap also reported that South Korean troops on Sunday accidentally fired an artillery round into the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the nations. Seoul quickly sent the North a message saying it was an accident, the news agency said.

Earlier, Mr Dai had told President Lee that Beijing would try to prevent the situation deteriorating any further.

Mr Lee had urged China to take what he called a more fair and responsible position on the relationship between the two Koreas.

The chairman of North Korea's parliament, an official known to be a close confidant of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has been invited to visit Beijing next week.

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